How Marketers Can Fight Ad Fraud to Drive Results | Industry Insights | All MKC Content | ANA

How Marketers Can Fight Ad Fraud to Drive Results

By Jake Bawolek

The first look of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) Programmatic Media Supply Chain Transparency Study found brands may be wasting much of their programmatic advertising campaign budgets on low-quality or fraudulent media.

Currently estimated at $88 billion, the global programmatic display advertising market is expected to reach $2,772.7 billion by 2028. Programmatic advertising uses automated technology to mediate the process of buying and selling digital advertising. The efficiency of real-time bidding, paired with more precise forms of targeting, helps maximize audience reach, increase conversions, and optimize ad spend.

Despite the benefits of programmatic advertising, ANA's report suggests brands may be prioritizing cost over value with blind spending on wasteful and inefficient media buys, including spending 15 percent of advertising budgets on made-for-advertising (MFA) websites (i.e. clickbait and filler content). This level of waste not only diminishes programmatic ad campaign performance but can also negatively influence brand reputation and trust.

Programmatic Advertising Campaigns Are Complex

It's no surprise suspect ad inventory is infiltrating the media plans of marketers. The proliferation of data sources, diverse ad formats and channels, and advanced targeting capabilities can be enough to make your head spin. Add in the nuances of ad fraud and brand safety concerns, privacy regulations and data compliance, and ongoing ad tech updates, and you find yourself in an intricate digital ecosystem that can overwhelm even the most seasoned marketers.

One must also consider the commercial motive behind MFA site production. Those who create fraudulent or low-quality sites are driven by significant financial incentives, with access to increasingly automated and scalable tools that make site generation effortless. Consequently, identification of MFA sites becomes progressively more difficult for DSPs, and the impact on the industry grows.

Human Talent Tackles Campaign Waste

Programmatic advertising platforms make it easier for advertisers to streamline their programmatic strategy by offering simplified campaign setup in which advertisers can set basic parameters like budget, target audience, and desired outcomes, then allow algorithms to automatically manage ad delivery. But as the ANA data shows, effective programmatic advertising campaigns are not managed with a "set it and forget it" mindset.

Instead of merely including "media" within the job description of a brand manager or CMO, opting for a transparent partnership with a team of specialized digital media experts can ensure programmatic ad buys are properly optimized to deliver on performance goals.

Here's why:

  • Quality Control

    Ensure brand safety by integrating a multi-step process for monitoring inventory traffic from ad exchanges and during ad service. A human-verified inclusion list (or "whitelist") of trusted and brand-safe websites is a time-proven method to mitigate the risk of your advertisement appearing on inappropriate or low-quality websites and apps. A team of digital media specialists can manually audit sites for content quality and safety (computer generated/aggregated content, copyright, violence, etc.) – as well as identify and exclude invalid websites. Additional safeguarding via IP filters can block the IP addresses of sources known for sending non-human traffic. Machine learning methods can also identify patterns in impressions, clicks, and engagements that are indicative of non-human traffic to further allow for domain quality monitoring in real-time.

  • Continuous Campaign Monitoring and Optimization

    Human talent can proactively monitor your programmatic campaigns with real-time performance data to maximize ROI and minimize waste. With daily campaign management, an experienced digital media analyst will identify underperforming ad placements, adjust bids, and modify inventory controls to ensure ad units are not overserved in any one area. An analyst will also work to limit or exclude underperforming ad placements. An intentional and targeted campaign strategy focused on the value of every impression enables efficient allocation of spend on relevant sites to maximize impact and minimize waste.

  • Audience Targeting Precision

    There are dozens of probabilistic targeting options available across different programmatic advertising platforms. Yet the imprecise nature of probabilistic models can lead to less-than-ideal ad placements and diminished campaign performance. Consequently, click-through rates (CTRs), conversion rates, and return on investment (ROI) may suffer in comparison to the more accurate audience targeting found in deterministic models based on offline data.

    A skilled team of data scientists can leverage offline data attributes to build your ideal customer model, and that modeled list can then be activated in digital environments to only target your best audience and eliminate wasted impressions. This predictable, people-based marketing approach greatly reduces the risk of serving ad impressions to non-human traffic.

    In fact, our head-to-head tests have shown targeting the right audience based on offline modeled data in programmatic environments can produce twice the conversion rate and a 25 percent reduction in cost per conversion (CPC)

  • Performance Transparency

    Unknown audiences make it hard to attribute conversions or actions to specific programmatic campaigns, clouding performance measurement and ROI. Another benefit of onboarding custom audiences to fuel programmatic targeting is that you can match sales back to your original audience list. To establish incrementality, use a holdout group to prove and quantify the impact the digital ads had on conversion outcomes. With a clear understanding of how each programmatic campaign contributed to response, you can make data-driven decisions and efficiently allocate resources for future programs.

Agency Partnerships Fight Information Asymmetry

If you're leveraging outside resources, the first step in fighting information asymmetry in your programmatic advertising campaigns is to establish open and transparent communication channels with your ad tech partners, agencies, and vendors. Clearly define your campaign objectives, KPIs, and expectations with this team, and request regular performance reports and site lists to ensure full visibility into campaign performance and spending.


Yes, log files serve as a valuable tool in tracking programmatic ad spend and understanding how budgets are allocated across various platforms and channels. However, the concerns highlighted in the ANA research can also be addressed through a transparent partnership with an experienced digital media team. This collaboration empowers marketers with the knowledge and support needed to navigate the complexities of the programmatic ad space and the intricacies surrounding ad fraud prevention, brand safety measure, privacy compliance, and data management.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

Jake Bawolek is the digital media manager at SeQuel Response, an award-winning direct response agency based out of Minneapolis, Minn. As an experienced digital marketer, Jake has a strong history of executing and optimizing digital advertising campaigns for performance and scale. You can connect with Jake at, email him at, or find him on LinkedIn.